Oilers: Darnell Nurse and Reasonable Expectations

Outside of the yet to be drafted Connor McDavid, the one player fans of the Edmonton Oilers appear most excited about seeing in the National Hockey League is defenceman Darnell Nurse. While there are those who seem to believe this organization would be crazy to have the twenty-year-old rearguard begin the 2015-16 season anywhere other than the American Hockey League, there is something to be said for giving the kid a legitimate shot at winning a job in training camp…if the opportunity were to present itself.

Regardless of where Nurse finds himself in October, it seems as though some will need to adjust their expectation levels when it comes to the seventh overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. While the youngster has all the makings of developing into a high impact defenceman for years to come, the chances of him reaching that potential any time in the foreseeable future is highly unlikely. In fact, this fan base would be wise to prepare themselves for having to deal with more than a few growing pains from the rugged blueliner.

A Year Nurse Won’t Soon Forget

With that said, Nurse is coming off a whirlwind of a season in 2014-15. After being given a taste of the NHL, courtesy of a brief two-game stint to start the year with the Oilers, the Hamilton, Ontario native was sent back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for his final year of junior hockey and proceeded to put together one heck of a campaign. He not only helped Sault Ste. Marie to a first place regular season finish in the OHL but also played a starring role for Team Canada in their  impressive Gold Medal winning run at the World Junior Championship.

The youngster followed that up with a very strong showing during the OHL Playoffs before his Greyhounds ultimately fell to McDavid and the Erie Otters in the Conference Final. Despite the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2015 Memorial Cup, the youngster was promoted to Oklahoma City for the second straight year and saw action in four post-season games with the Barons in which he was one of their best defencemen.

Life Will Not Be So Easy In The Pros

From a hockey perspective, the kid had a year he won’t soon forget but let’s not get out of hand here. While Nurse could pretty much manhandle the majority of his opponents at the junior level, that will no longer be the case in 2015-16. His days of routinely overpowering opposing forwards in the defensive zone will now be a thing of the past and it will certainly taking some getting use to…though something tells me he won’t need a ton of time to adapt to his new lot in life and surroundings.

One could easily make the argument that Nurse is already one of the best defencemen the Oilers have, be it at the NHL or AHL levels, but that is far more of an indictment on this organization’s inability to draft and/or develop defencemen, than anything the captain of the Greyhounds has managed to accomplish to this point in his young career. Unfortunately, while all that may be true, no one should be surprised if we see his name on Edmonton’s season-opening roster for a second consecutive year.

Exhibit A: Seth Jones and the Nashville Predators

To be clear, the biggest obstacle that could be standing in the way of Nurse making a smooth transition from junior hockey to the pro game could very well be the team he will be suiting up for. Barring a major roster shake-up, the Oilers are not exactly well-equipped to  develop young blueliners and if that shake-up were to occur, there may not actually be any room for a twenty-year-old rookie on their backend.

But then again, perhaps the quality of the team isn’t as important as some might think…just take a look at the Nashville Predators. While they are a perennial defensive juggernaut with a ton of depth along their blue line, which just happens to include Roman Josi and Shea Weber, and a star netminder in Pekka Rinne, we have still seen Seth Jones suffer through his fair share of missteps during his first two years in the league.

The former Portland Winterhawks standout is just eight months older than the Oilers highly regarded prospect and if Jones has struggled to the degree he has in transitioning to the National Hockey League, how on earth can anyone expect anything different from Darnell Nurse? In my mind, you cannot and hopefully Oilers Nation will keep that in mind and cut this kid some slack over the next handful of seasons.